“A Continuum of Freeing Design & Vigorous Futures” — A Journey from Racial Bullying to Time Warps

There had to be other, better, and more just and free worlds out there.

  • I was working as a board member at Chicago Freedom School, an organization that trains Black and Brown youth how to organize in their communities for key resources and issues, and also had been involved in neighborhood advocacy and issue campaigns since 2011.
  • I was working as the first Director of Operations at Greater Good Studio, a human centered design firm for social impact, and was in part hired on to explicitly help GGS build an equity lens to its studio given my background in DEI.
  • I was working on the board of Creative Reaction Lab, which trains Black and Latinx youth to become the next generation of civic leaders addressing racial inequities in our cities, leading to social, cultural, and economic growth for both cultures, all through design.

What was critical for my journey was being able to experience not only the assets but also the challenges of DEI, design, and organizing as fields.

I made mistakes. I misunderstood cues. I didn’t get all the nuances. However, the way that I got through the experience was by being humble enough to say: “I don’t know everything” and “I need to learn more and listen more”.

“We Got Y’all” was a parody of a nonprofit on Issa Rae’s HBO award winning show, Insecure. Notice how the White hand is “holding up” the Black children, almost pulling them out of the Blackness below into orange which dominates the entire image. Credit: HBO.
A scene from HBO’s Insecure — where a coworker of Issa Rae’s character says, in regards to an upcoming field trip for Black and Latinx youth, “Wouldn’t they rather go to an African-American museum, or like, a Latino museum, and just see how much more grateful other generations were?”

Time and time again, when I have shared space with White folks like this guy, I’d just straight up ask out of curiosity — “how are you so comfortable being in these spaces if you don’t mind my asking? So many other White folks who come into this neighborhood seem to have trouble connecting with residents, but not you?”

Photos from The Graffiti Gym (2019)
Pre-COVID Equity Design Class at Loyola University Chicago.
Post-COVID Equity Design Course at Loyola University Chicago.
A movie poster for the film, “See You Yesterday”. Michael J Fox goes backwards or forwards in time, what is he doing? Riding a vintage skateboard or a hoverboard. Eden Duncan-Smith and Dante’ Crichlow’s characters above figure out how to travel across time, and what do they do? Try to save a black family member from being murdered by the police. It’s just different.

“Black people aren’t supposed to traverse the fantastical, even though our ability to thrive against all odds would tell you otherwise ! And on top of that we did so communally, bringing everyone along with us on the Nebuchadnezzar ship. It wasn’t just about exploring new worlds for kicks and giggles or galactic space cred like many White-centric manifest destiny narratives are focused on in Scifi (did someone say Dune?). Needless to say, all of this was a huge disconnect for me growing up.”

Racial DeckEquity Cardset — ID: placed on top of a purple background, with black, purple, red, and yellow planets and a mesh wireframe under everything.
From this piece made in my Procreate app….(ID: An illustration of Naomi Osaka, in green, with yellow, black, and pink planets in the background, and spaceships of colors blue, pink, orange, and magenta placed throughout)
Box art for the Continuum Deck.
A macro snapshot of the Freeing Design Deck
A macro snapshot of the Vigorous Futures Deck

I often find myself always going back to what Mariame Kaba says: "hope is a discipline". I know of no better way of explaining how and why this way of imagination works to sustain solutioning in our present.

Credit: Monica Trinidad

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Alvin Schexnider

Alvin Schexnider

At the intersection of design, equity, operations, & people: Designer (service & equity) • Strategist (bizops & people) • Equity (org change models/tools)